What Does North Korea Want?
leaders spent months demanding the United States sit down for
talks. Then, when the United States did so, they acted like
They told us they
have nuclear weapons and threatened to demonstrate as much. They
demanded to know what we're going to do about it. Only later do we
hear from Beijing that the North Koreans didn't mean all this and
that they want to deal. They'll abandon their nuclear weapons
program and missiles, we're told, for unreasonable amounts of food
and energy and a promise we won't attack them.
It makes one wonder
whether "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il learned anything from the fate of
Saddam Hussein. In Iraq, we proved that brinksmanship doesn't wash
with this administration. Saddam may or may not be alive, but his
reign of terror in Iraq is over.
Then, too, perhaps
the North Koreans did learn from Iraq. Perhaps the Dear Leader has
become convinced he and his regime are next on the United States'
Axis of Evil hit list. Bone-rattling fear would explain a lot of
the recent craziness. Perhaps the Dear Leader's ploy is to try to
convince the United States he might unleash a nuke against the
United States or South Korea if we don't give into his
He may be
panicking, but we don't have to. Why not?
North Korea has two
nuclear bombs -- maybe. The United States has 6,000. North Korea
has a million-man army outfitted with a veritable military museum
of aged Soviet (yes, Soviet) equipment. Along with our allies in
South Korea, we have 2 million soldiers and the world's most
advanced weaponry. It would be an ugly fight, and one that we would
rather avoid. But we would prevail -- and Kim knows it.
Moreover, in Iraq,
we conquered a reasonably stable country that was far from
destitute, even by the standards of its region. North Korea,
considered the worst national economy in the world, can't feed its
22 million people or provide them electricity. In the last eight
years, 2 million North Koreans have starved to death, and millions
more would've if not for international food aid -- half of which
comes from the United States. Kim Jong Il's regime is on the edge
of the abyss. North Korea needs the world far more than the world
needs North Korea.
We should encourage
the Chinese to continue to pressure North Korea to behave.
Arm-twisting from Beijing probably led to the recent announcement
that the North Koreans are ready to deal. The Chinese didn't like
the way Kim's crowd conducted itself during the talks and almost
certainly let the North Koreans know this after the meeting.
Beijing doesn't want trouble on its border, and it doesn't want to
be made to choose between Pyongyang and the world's lone
superpower. News of what happened in Iraq spread to China as
should continue to multilateralize the North Korean problem and
begin isolating Pyongyang. The Dear Leader must understand his
nukes will have consequences. In fact, we ought to give the United
Nations a shot at redemption after the Iraqi debacle and urge the
U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution calling on North Korea
to rejoin the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and halt its nuclear
On top of that, we
should urge countries that have recently opened diplomatic
relations with Pyongyang, such as Italy, Australia and the
Philippines, to close them or lower the level of diplomatic
representation. Washington should encourage these countries -- and
others -- to base relations with Pyongyang on the status of its
The North Korean
problem is a nettlesome one at best. It is going to take some time
-- as well as close cooperation with Japan and South Korea -- to
resolve. North Korea likely will continue to act provocatively and
simultaneously make conciliatory gestures. The key for us is to be
continue to talk with North Korea, if only to justify a tougher
approach later on. We should seek a peaceful resolution, but we
should keep all options open. After all, we're the ones with the
Brookes is director of the Asian Studies Center at The
Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org),
a Washington-based public policy research institute.
Ran on the Scripps Howard wire